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vpnc (for Cisco VPNs with 2-factor authentication) on Ubuntu

In order to connect to firewall and DRACs of our new Rackspace cluster, I had to setup a VPN connection. Rackspace gave us a Cisco ASA device which is firewall and vpn in one. In order to connect to the VPN the client needs to do 2-factor authentication.

At first I tried to install the necessary add-ons for Ubuntu's network-manager, but after I spent an hour or so trying to make it work, I took an alternate route.

Requirements

Here's all you need to get started:

$ sudo aptitude install vpnc
...

Configuration

Create a configuration file — I called mine rackspace.conf:

$ gksudo gedit /etc/vpnc/rackspace.conf

I put in the following:

IPSec gateway X.X.X.X
IPSec ID GROUPNAME
IPSec secret GROUPPASSWORD
Xauth username USERNAME
Xauth password PASSWORD

Obviously, the capitalized values need to be replaced:

  • IPSec gateway: the VPN's gateway/address
  • IPSec ID: the group's name
  • IPSec secret: the group's password
  • Xauth username: the username
  • Xauth password: the password associated with the username

If you're with Rackspace, they'll tell you those exact things when the firewall is provisioned. I gather other ISPs call them similar.

Using your VPN

Once the file is saved, just start the vpn connection:

$ sudo vpnc rackspace
VPNC started in background (pid: 2691)...

Note: Just rackspace is plenty, not rackspace.conf or similar.

Testing:

$ ping 172.30.0.144
PING 172.30.0.144 (172.30.0.144) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 172.30.0.144: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=114 ms
64 bytes from 172.30.0.144: icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=113 ms
64 bytes from 172.30.0.144: icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=113 ms
^C
--- 172.30.0.144 ping statistics ---
3 packets transmitted, 3 received, 0% packet loss, time 2003ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 113.766/114.199/114.866/0.552 ms

To disconnect it:

$ sudo vpnc-disconnect 
Terminating vpnc daemon (pid: 2691)

Fin

That's all.

Giganews VPN on Ubuntu

This article briefly describes how you can setup the Giganews VPN (PPTP) on Ubuntu. I'm gonna assume 10.04 (that's what I tested with) and the gnome desktop.

Does this sound familiar: The VPN connection 'xxxxx' failed because there were no valid VPN secrets.

If so then I'm hoping this article will help you.

What is a VPN for?

The use-case for a VPN — and this is for basically any VPN (not just Giganews' service) — is security. For example, for online banking when you use public WIFI at airports, train stations or your favorite coffee place.

Unless the VPN service itself is blocked, a VPN also provides real and unfiltered Internet access. No bogus blocks or censorships because your goverment thought they need to protect you.

From a development perspective using different VPNs also allow me to easily test location-based services. And it doesn't stop there — for example since I work for people in the U.S. we often run into issues with services which we use which do things different to me because of my location. A VPN in the U.S. fixes that for me.

And there are more and more use-cases once you think about it.